On the bus home from Kingston a couple of weeks ago, I suffered what I think might have been described as a mild case of PTSD. My fellow passengers included an infant and his young mum (the Kingston of which I speak’s the on the Thames, in England, and in England, one has a mum, rather than a mom, though, given the popularity of American colloquial speech, give it a few weeks). Every 30 seconds or so — but at intervals whose irregularity precluded one’s girding himself — Infant Son would shriek piercingly, and continue shrieking as though Mum weren’t doing her best to appease him, but torturing him. I thought I might have to get off the bus and walk the rest of the way home. When they instead alighted, I felt enormous relief, but in a moment or two found myself tensing, as though for another shriekfest.
A few days later, we went on holiday in Turkey. In the passport control queue, a young mother was trying to placate an infant of indeterminate sex whose shrieking made that of Bus Baby sound in comparison like one of those tranquility-inducing babbling brook simulators you can buy in New Age shops.
The worst thing one can do with a truculent child, of course, is reward its truculence. To pay attention to the shrieking is to guarantee that there will be more of it. One of my proudest moments as a daddy came when my little girl was herself an infant, and got into the habit of waking up around halfway through my beloved Hill Street Blues, standing up in her bed, and hollering. When the hollering began, I’d go into her, get her to lie back down, tuck her in, and tell her how much I loved her. For a couple of nights, she considered the situation for maybe five minutes, and resumed hollering. This time, I’d take my own sweet time going into her, and when I did go, I’d put her back to bed without comment. If she got up a third time, I’d wait even longer to go in.
I remember one episode with especial delight. I went into her bedroom for the second time that night, with furrowed brow, and quietly advised Brigitte, “There seems to be some confusion here, pretty girl. According to my watch, it’s time for you to be enjoying happy dreams. But according to your own, it’s time to stand standing up in your crib and holler.” She wasn’t speaking yet, but I swear the look she gave me suggested that she got my little joke. (She didn’t actually own a wristwatch at that point.) She sighed and lay back down of her own volition. I think that was the last of her hollering. As she got older, though, she continued to give me looks that made clear that she…got it when I was being wry.
Not once did she make fellow passengers on a bus wish for deafness.
Well, how wonderful, you say. Of course, if you were such a terrific parent, how is it that your daughter, now reportedly on the verge of becoming a mom (I’m not sure that she’s ever been to the UK) herself hasn’t spoken to you in 13-1/2 years? To which I’ve no rebuttal.
But back to Dalaman Airport, her fellow passengers, Christ-like and altruistic as we are, hold their tongues, knowing that if implore the young mum to placate her brat, the next group exposed to him will suffer even more. And I don’t think that even one of us doesn’t wish retroactively for Mummy’s infertility.